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MAR 17, 2020 • 5 min read
For many, the college process is a stressful, chaotic, and nail-biting race. We turn to mentors, friends, family, anyone we can to help us get into the best colleges, get the next point on the ACT, and edit our essays in an effort to out-compete our peers. It is ruthless and fast-paced, leading to feelings of being lost, confused, and eventually frustrated. The hands go up with defeat and the hair is gone from stress, but we shouldn’t feel this way. We should walk away feeling proud of who we are and the best way to make that happen is by being honest with ourselves and understanding that the college process is a reflection, not a game or a race.
This experience usually marks the first time we have to advocate for ourselves and speak loud-and-proud on behalf of our accomplishments. It’s the first time in our life where we truly have to reflect and vocalize who we are, and more importantly, who we want to become. It’s easy to go with the crowd and get sucked into the cutthroat nature of applying to colleges, getting wrapped up in the statistics of test scores and acceptance rates, without ever finding out who we are at that moment in time. By changing our mentality to realize that the process is a time to reflect and to find our voice, it leads to a much less stressful experience and a much more successful outcome.
Reflection happens within. It requires a deep level of internal thinking and a strong sense of self-awareness, which is not something that comes easily. The experience can be frustrating at first and many of us push the feeling of internal dialogue away. We live in a culture where the next step is always better than the last and we’re always chasing that next step - so much so that we forget to slow down, let alone stop and reflect.
Many of us aren’t even sure how to even start a reflection. You start by summarizing experiences in your life, no matter how big or small, and questioning how those events made you feel. It’s this intellectual curiosity that will allow you to grow tremendously over time. Then, you analyze those feelings and events to create your own story. Once you have a solid grasp on how you got to where you’re at right now, it then becomes more about where you want to go, how you want to feel, and how you're going to get there. Reflection doesn’t happen overnight or in one sitting, it takes time. You have to be content with your story and your voice. You need to learn to be proud of it. It’s an adventure, almost even a maze, that has many paths, but the direction and purpose it gives you are worth the twists and turns. You’re building your own compass.
By starting this critical thought process during applying to colleges, you will find that it’s easier to write your college essays, easier to find the school where you’ll succeed and be comfortable, and easier to put your best and honest foot forward. Most of us like to think that applying to college is a race, but it’s not. Slow down, look around, and get comfortable with your own voice because, at the end of the day, it’s a personal decision where to apply, what to write your personal statement about, and ultimately where to attend college.
The college application process is different for everyone and each student handles it differently. It’s important that throughout the process, no matter if you’re feeling helpless or upset, you remain positive and keep pushing forward.
When applying to college, take the opportunity to think about your high school career and what your plans may be post-graduation. Instead of peddling to the meddle, pumping out as many applications as quickly as possible, focus on what these applications mean for your future. By reflecting on your experiences instead of rushing through them, your application will be much stronger and help to portray exactly who you are to admissions officers.
Throughout the process, it’s important to remain your own #1 fan. While you have many support systems helping you along the way, including your parents, siblings, friends, tutors, mentors, even your dog… without believing in yourself, it’s quite challenging to find the motivation to write and re-write essays, picking them apart with a fine toothed comb. Get excited for your future and what opportunities being accepted to top universities can bring to the table for you!
While a support system is necessary throughout the application process, it’s crucial to remember you are applying to college for you, not anyone else. Don’t get caught up in other people’s dreams and ideas of what you can accomplish. And when asking your family and friends for help, don’t get down on yourself if they give you an answer you don’t like. Feedback is important, especially when applying to college. Remember that everyone wants to see you succeed too!
If you have hunch, it’s best to trust your instincts and follow through. Think you have a good chance of getting into Harvard? Apply! No harm, no foul, best to give it all you’ve got because you only have one chance to apply to study as an undergrad.
Lachlan is currently studying philosophy, politics, and economics at UPenn. Originally from Martha's Vineyard, he attended the Kent School and completed a post-graduate year at Deerfield Academy. He is on the collegiate rowing team at UPenn and spent the summer as a Marketing Intern for Crimson!